ST. LOUIS • Workers excavating land as part of the new Ikea store construction project Thursday unearthed human remains from a 19th-century cemetery.
The discovery is not expected to delay the project.
Workers digging up the land hit a vault about 10:45 a.m. along Sarah Street just south of Duncan Avenue. St. Louis homicide detectives were initially called to inspect the scene but quickly determined there was nothing suspicious.
An excavator working for S.M. Wilson & Co. hit the top of a vault while clearing land for new access roads to a large grain silo owned by Ray-Carroll Grain Growers. The 5-by-7-foot vault had brick walls with concrete slabs as its top. Workers immediately stopped digging and alerted authorities.
The land next to the grain silo, which the city now owns, was the Rock Springs Cemetery from 1849 to 1855. Hundreds of graves have been moved since the mid-1800s, after a cholera outbreak prompted St. Louis to require that new cemeteries be built outside city limits.
The property is just west of the Ikea store construction site. Workers are building new access roads to the grain silo to replace current entrances from Duncan and to ease traffic congestion once the store opens next year.
A set of scattered human bones found inside the vault were removed about 2:30 p.m. Thursday. Workers from Calvary Cemetery boxed them up and plan to rebury them in a section of Calvary that holds the remains of more than 100 people also from the former Rock Springs Cemetery.
Graves have been moved at least a half-dozen times since the mid-1800s, but the bulk were moved at the turn of the 20th century, said Gabe Jones, a spokesman for the St. Louis Archdiocese. Jones said it was not likely that the remains removed Thursday would be identifiable.
“There are no records to speak of from that far back,” he said.
Dennis Lower, president of Cortex, the district developing the site that includes Ikea, said S.M. Wilson would bring ground sonar equipment to the site along Sarah this week to check for more potential grave sites as workers continue clearing dirt for the new entrances along Sarah.
“We will proceed now with the forewarning that we might encounter something,” Lower said. “So we’ll have Calvary on standby and will very carefully excavate the area.”
Lower said the new access roads must be built before construction can begin on new sewer lines and storm drains connecting the Ikea site to the intersection of Duncan and Sarah. That intersection will also be realigned to accommodate the sewers and to improve traffic flow.
Even if more graves are found, Lower said he didn’t expect their excavation would delay the Ikea project.
“We now know what to expect and will be ready to mobilize,” Lower said.